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Ventura Stormwater Permit

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  • Paul Jenkin
    A public hearing on the Ventura MS4 Stormwater Permit is scheduled for May 7 at the County Government Center. Environmental regulations softened, avoiding
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 7, 2009
      A public hearing on the Ventura MS4 Stormwater Permit is scheduled for
      May 7 at the County Government Center.

      Environmental regulations softened, avoiding potential hefty water
      rate hike

      By Kevin Clerici
      Saturday, April 4, 2009

      Local public works officials are breathing small sighs of relief now
      that revisions have been made to proposed tough new stormwater
      pollution rules for Ventura County.

      The county needs a new stormwater permit from the Los Angeles Regional
      Water Quality Control Board, and officials said the conditions the
      agency initially proposed could have cost local taxpayers $1 billion
      over five years, or roughly $600 per household per year.

      State water regulators have since agreed to rework some of the
      costliest conditions, reducing the estimated cost of compliance to $20
      million to $33 million annually, or $60 to $100 per household per
      year, officials said. The county and cities, however, probably will
      end up eating the bill.

      “The permit is much improved. They have listened to us,” Ventura
      County Public Works Director Jeff Pratt said of the revised standards.
      The standards are aimed at reducing pollutants in the Ventura and
      Santa Clara rivers, Malibu and Calleguas creeks and eventually the

      “It’s not perfect, but we feel it’s something everyone can live with,”
      he said.

      Still, much debate and jockeying is expected over the next month,
      particularly over proposed tough standards aimed at future housing and
      commercial development and redevelopment projects.

      The Water Quality Control Board has scheduled a May 7 hearing at the
      County Government Center in Ventura to take final public testimony and
      consider adopting the conditions.

      Nearly three years in the making, Ventura County’s stormwater permit
      is shared by county government and all 10 cities. The persistence of
      pollution in the waters off Ventura County beaches has prompted a need
      for more stringent measures, according to state regulators and

      The proposed permit would for the first time establish strict limits
      on the quantity of pollutants allowed into lakes, rivers and the ocean.

      One promising change from the initial proposals, however, is that
      steep fines for noncompliance have been removed, Pratt said.

      Officials complained the fines and public backlash would have forced
      cities to install multimillion-dollar treatment facilities at multiple
      locations to remove pollutants from storm runoff. Now, they get more
      time to study and isolate actual problems.

      “If you don’t meet the goals, you still must take action,” Pratt said.
      “But you get some time to find the most appropriate action.”

      Stormwater, he said, cannot be regulated the same way as sewage
      systems or factories. Municipalities can’t control rain levels that
      drive trash, bacteria and other pollutants from streets, yards,
      parking lots, housing tracts and businesses into local waters.

      Influential environmental groups Heal the Bay and the Natural
      Resources Defense Council, however, say storm runoff is the biggest
      known source of pollution at beaches, and they have been among the
      most outspoken advocates for greater protections.

      “The latest draft (permit) has its pluses and minuses,” said Kirsten
      James, water quality director for Heal the Bay.

      One plus is the inclusion of beach water-quality monitoring, she said.

      The new permit also calls for “low-impact” housing and commercial
      development. The water agency eliminated some controversial proposed
      grading requirements, but it still wants projects to better capture
      runoff and treat the water on site. “The idea is making the property
      more like its natural conditions,” James said. “It takes steps in
      those directions, but some loopholes still exist.”

      Building industry officials contend the permit’s strict requirements
      to reduce runoff from even small redevelopment projects could conflict
      with smart-growth strategies, which encourage high-density projects on
      existing urban lots instead of suburban sprawl.

      Many of the design-related techniques encouraged by the water agency —
      such as setting aside areas to be planted with water-filtering
      vegetation — would be difficult to accomplish on small lots and
      thoroughfares almost entirely covered by structures. It could hurt
      efforts to revive the economy and housing industry, said Holly
      Schroeder, CEO of the Los Angeles and Ventura counties chapter of the
      Building Industry Association.

      “It’s going to drive development to areas that use more land,” she
      said. The association would prefer more flexibility in the regulations
      so the right approach can be tailored to each development site.

      A coalition of city and county officials is working on a formal
      response to the latest draft permit, Pratt said. It also plans to
      continue talking with environmental and business groups to try to
      forge a united stance on possible alternatives and practical approaches.

      Much of the millions in new spending would go toward enhanced
      monitoring and analysis of water quality throughout the county’s
      winding drainage system, installation of underground trash collectors,
      and inspections of industrial facilities and businesses, officials said.

      The city of Ventura, for example, has identified 70 new actions it
      would have to take to comply, said Vicki Musgrove, assistant public
      works director. “There have been some changes, but this is still a
      precedent-setting permit,” she said.

      Pratt said local agencies have few options for recovering the costs.
      The county and cities collectively spend about $13.5 million a year on
      storm-water programs now. Part of that is offset by a countywide fee
      levied on property owners, which raises about $3 million a year — less
      than $10 a year per household on average.

      Increasing that fee would require voter approval, and Pratt figured it
      would be difficult to persuade residents to dig deeper.

      “Everyone is wondering where the money is going to come from,” he said.
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